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How rabbits show affection to each other (as opposed to how they show affection to us) can vary wildly BUt there seems to be a few intrinsic behaviours that they engage in to strengthen their bind.
How strong a bond is between two rabbits can vary a lot, and it seems to be dependent on both rabbits – how independent they are, how they like to play, and their position in the relationship can all affect how bonded two rabbits are, and how they interact with one another.
In my experience, the way a rabbit behaves to one mate is not necessarily the way it will behave with another mate.
For example, we used to have two pairs: George and Alice, and Isobel and Lucy.
When Alice and Lucy passed away, we bonded George and Isobel.
The bonding process was pretty standard – a couple of snips, a bit of fur flying, but nothing horrific.
We were expecting worse because Isobel and George had both been the dominant rabbit of their repsective pairs, and Alice and Lucy were both very timid.
Surprisingly, dominance was established very quickly, with Isobel showing that she was dominant (she humped his head -_-) and George just…took it.
Whilst there are certain behaviours that you can watch out for that will show you the currentl state of your rabbit’s bond, some rabbits will ALWAYS go against the grain.
The pair we have at the moment re mother and daughter, and it’s a very loose bond in that they’re more than happy to spend time apart, but they rarely actually fight. Just the odd scuffle over food, which stopped when Daisy got head tilt.
They groom one another
Usually, the submissive rabbit will do the majority of the grooming.
George was happy to be the submissive one, but he still frequently asked to be groomed by shoving his head under Isobel’s chin. She very, very, rarely obliged, and he’d just look sad, so I’d go and pet him.
Yet he would spend HOURS grooming her. Tragic.
When he was bonded with Alice, they’d do equal amounts of grooming. I think it might be to do with the fact that they were littermates, so they’ve never really had to properly establish dominance – it just evolved as their personalities did.
Holly grooms Daisy a lot, even though she’s dominant, but as I’ve mentioned before, I think the mother-daughter aspect makes the whole grooming-to-establish-dominance a bit moot, because a mother is naturally dominant.
Daisy wants to be dominant. Ever since we’ve had them she’d been a nightmare for trying to hump her mother. Hilariously, she’s a Netherland dwarf, and whilst Holly is pretty small, Daisy is TINY and has to practically climb on her mum. Rabbits are gross.
Daisy has to be kept in a separate small pen (she’s disabled, so she needs a smaller space) and we sometimes open it up to let them play together and she STILL tries to hump her mum. She has head tilt and can barely walk in a straight line (she tends to default to running in circles) but she still thinks she’s top dog!
They cuddle up together
Rabbits snuggled up together is the cutest thing in the world, but I think it’s a security thing as much as an I-love-you thing.
I mean some rabbits genuinely do love each other (and are inseparable) but others prefer to do their own thing and just sleep next to each other. It means if there’s a fox or weasel or something, they can put on a united front.
You might find that one rabbit is flopped over, and the other is more alert, so I’m guessing they’re keeping one ear out for danger.
Speaking of which, try talking softly to your rabbit when they’re asleep. They sometimes casually lift one ear to listen and it’s so cute. Holly has a great ‘this had better be important, I was ASLEEP’ face to go with it too.
They will copy each other’s behaviour
Mimicking behaviour is quite common in bonded pairs, and it’s been noted in humans too. APPARENTLY if someone fancies you, they’ll unconsciously copy your behaviours.
According to a lot of the noughties magazines I read growing up, you can make someone fancy you by copying their behaviour.
It may work, idk, but I fear that if you get it wrong, you’ll be written off as a creep.
Copying behaviour in rabbits in often seen in new rabbits. If you introduce a new bunny into the house, they’ll copy the behaviour of other rabbits to learn the ropes of the new place.
We’ve actually seen this happy in a really overt way, and it’s so cute. Every night, my boyfriend makes toast in the kitchen for his supper, and the rabbits get a treat.
Holly has learned that the noise of the toaster (it beeps) means a treat is coming, and goes and begs by the kitchen door. Whenever Daisy sees Holly begging, she knows it’s treat time and starts dancing about, even though Daisy knows that it’ll be Dave (not Holly) that gives her the treat.
Don’t worry if your rabbits spend time apart
Whilst most rabbits are happy to have another bunny friend, sometimes they don’t appear the have the strongest bond. Remember that bonds are formed out of necessity as well as love, so if your bunnies feel super safe, they won’t feel the need to be together all of the time.
You may find that your rabbits prefer different spots – one may like to lie in a sunbeam, the other next to a chair (mine like to lie in the high-traffic gap between the pen and the sofa and then all all affronted when we walk over them).
If they feel safe and secure, they’ll be perfectly happy to sit by themselves.
It’s a bit like when you buy a group of fish.
You go to the store and buy, say ten tetras because they’re a shoaling fish that like to be kept in groups.
And yet when you put them in the tank, they all spread out.
It’s actually a good thing – if they were shoaling, it’d mean they were stressed and scared.
They eat together (nicely)
One interesting thing I noticed when we had to separate Daisy was that neither of the girls were guzzling their pellets any more. Instead, they eat them over a couple of hours.
This is not typical bunny behaviour, btw. I’ve always had pellet guzzlers.
It seems that Holly and Daisy each prefer to savour their pellets, but when they were together, they couldn’t because what if one ate them all?
I was actually worried about Daisy and Holly’s bond because they used to fight over food all the time. This seems to have stopped though, so I wonder if there were perhaps food issues at their previous home.
If you’re worried about your rabbit’s fighting over food, then consider feeding them separately, and sitting between then when offering treats.
To be honest, it’s not a problem I’ve seen a lot, but it was quite bad when we first brought the girls home.
I hope that was helpful! There isn’t a tonne of information out there about how bunnies show affection to each other, so I had to draw largely from my own experience.
If your rabbit show a cute or interesting bonding behaviour, I’d love to hear about it, so please leave a comment.